Chantal Hughes: Why charities need long-term contracts

The pressure to innovate constantly in order to secure long-term grants creates a challenging landscape for chief executives

Chantal Hughes
Chantal Hughes

No matter what size a charity is, the most important and often all-consuming need they share is finance. Third sector organisations can have periods of living hand to mouth, frantically trying to hold on to valuable staff while delivering front-line services to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Charities rely on funding to provide their services, and the Hampton Trust is no exception.

In a world of public service commissioning, smaller charities are often overlooked in favour of larger organisations that guarantee efficiency with a large evidence base to support their vision.

For the rest of us, this makes bidding and winning public service contracts incredibly challenging. Shrinking government funding has hit the sector hard, as local authorities facing significant cuts to their budget are wary of committing to long-term funding.

In Hampshire, where the Hampton Trust has its headquarters, the council has made cuts of £408m since 2008 and is preparing to face a further £80m in cuts to the budget by 2021.

This scenario is all too familiar for local authorities and service providers nationwide, and unsurprisingly has increased the demand for national grants tenfold.

Delivering a robust fundraising strategy, which can do wonders to raise optimism in the boardroom, can be tough when charities such as ours remain at the mercy of short-term contracts and 12-month grants.

We are constantly striving to pilot new schemes, spearhead innovation and achieve outstanding results to inspire local authorities and grant funders to invest further. 

New ideas and concepts are fundamental to change, but this mindset from investors mean you sometimes have no choice but to leave established schemes on the shelf gathering dust and close referral pathways in favour of something else that will inspire financial investment.

The diminishing county council grant funding pot has left us with no option but to close services with high demand and long waiting lists.    

At a time when our services are more in demand than ever before, having to constantly innovate to secure short-term grants provides a challenging landscape for chief executives to navigate.

This is where long-term funding can be a lifeline. The security of knowing how much money will come in, and when, gives charities the confidence to make bold decisions.

I have recently witnessed a very welcome shift at local authorities from year-on-year grant funding towards funds that lasts three years, and in some cases even five years. 

Thankfully, the Hampton Trust has been fortunate enough to secure one of these five-year contracts to develop an unprecedented response to work with medium, high-risk and serial domestic abuse perpetrators.

We will be able to create an evidence base and deliver community-based interventions that can really make a significant impact.

We can work closely with other service providers and commissioners to review best practice and identify gaps in services, get universities on board to travel the distance with us and consider meaningful evaluations to create the evidence base we all need when investing public money. 

Having five years to develop and deliver the service provides an opportunity to really prove our worth – something that is fundamental with a first-of-its-kind service, and an opportunity more charities deserve.

Chantal Hughes is chief executive of the Hampton Trust

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